Book Reviews

Kitten Corner: Learning New Things

These two books are perfect for toddlers starting to explore the world around them; one helps you with words, and one with practical skills. Both books were sent to me free of charge to review, but all opinions are my own!

Continue reading “Kitten Corner: Learning New Things”
Book Reviews

Review: All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

Amora and the crew of the Keel Haul return in this sequel to All the Stars and Teeth!

Book: All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

Publication date: 2nd February 2021

Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge by Titan Books; paperback was a gift from Justine at I Should Read That

Content warnings: violence, murder and death, including major character death; central thread of grieving a parent’s violent death; blood and bone magic; desecration of corpses for magical purposes; on-page panic attacks and depiction of PTSD.

I’ll make my usual caveat about sequel reviews: this blog post is not the place to start if you haven’t read these books yet! I’ll avoid as many spoilers as I can, but even mentioning a character’s name will let you know they turn up here, so if you’d rather go in completely cold, you can check out my review of book one, All the Stars and Teeth, to see if it will be your kind of thing, and come back when you’re ready.

Almost everything I said about the first book stands: this is an interesting world with a good magic system. Having run through the traditional YA princess-retakes-throne plot in the first book, I was really wondering where this book was going to go next to finish up the duology – and unfortunately it feels like the book was wondering that for a while, too. This is much more slowly paced than book one, with Amora setting off on a tour of her kingdom’s islands with the advertised purpose being finding a husband to rule alongside her, but the surreptitous purpose of finding a magical item that will help her break the curse on her and Bastian. Now, don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this very much! But compare to the action-packed thrust of the first book, this is meandering at best, and the first three-quarters of the book seem to have little impact on the last quarter, which is where the story as a whole really resolves. That being said, I really enjoyed getting to see around the islands a little more, especially the changes that had occurred to their daily since the major events of the first book.

Amora herself continues to be the weakest character of the cast, which is a little more obvious here as the rest of her crew felt like they were shoved to the background a bit as the plot focuses in on Amora’s reign as opposed to their mutual adventure. There’s hardly any of Vataea, the sarcastic mermaid, and most of Amora’s conversations with Bastian revolve around their relationship and their curse, which means he has way less chance to shine as his cheeky piratical self. My favourite character from the first book, Amora’s former fiancĂ© Ferrick, was still the best of them all – I adore that they let the two of them be platonic friends! – and though he too is a little less present, I really enjoyed his scenes. The trouble with Amora is that while she’s likeable enough to be in the head of, she’s pushed and pulled all over the place by other people all the time, and I didn’t feel like she had a huge amount of agency in her own story. Some of this is down to her obligations as queen, which is understandable, but sometimes she just has plot elements handed to her (even the final climax!) with seemingly little work on her part, and she just sort of does things without much planning. The author attempts to lampshade this with a few news articles discussing her flighty teenage behaviour as an attempt to undermine her authority, but when Amora dismisses these as not knowing the real her, I just sort of thought the articles were right. What I will say about her, though, is that her PTSD attacks are well-written, and really helped me to come back around to sympathising with her – while she does sometimes make frustrating decisions, they do sometimes make sense for someone desperately trying to protect herself from her trauma (still not all the time, though).

The first book never let Amora flinch away from the reality of her subjects’ lives under her ancestor’s rule, and a large part of her arc involved realising how much she, and the parents she loved as people, were complicit in keeping that cruel and selfish regime going. That definitely continues to be a theme here – no matter how other characters try to jolly her into just enjoying life as queen, travelling around the islands and getting to know them, Amora can’t help but see the hatred and frustration of the islanders themselves. This leads to some fascinating tensions in the plot at times, like when Amora’s husband search, which should be fun frothy romance time, but which takes a rather more brutal turn… It’s a fun and interesting subversion of many of the older YA tropes – and while I won’t spoil anything, I think the ending will raise a smile from anyone who’s fed up with the inherent glorification of monarchy in YA fantasy stories with princess leads.

Overall, though I’ve been a little critical, I did have a lot of fun reading this. I think it’s missing some of the sparkiness and action-y adventure style that the first book was, but also doesn’t settle into the learning-to-rule political court fantasy I thought it might, either. It’s a bit of an odd duck compared to the first, is all I’m thinking! I kind of wish the last 100 pages of this book had just been worked into All the Stars and Teeth so it could have been a really satisfying standalone, but I still recommend this as a duology, particularly for its depictions of friendships and its hard look at the ethics of monarchy. Three and a half out of five stars!

Tags and Fun

TBR Spotlight: The Trouble With Kings by Sherwood Smith

Back to the regularly scheduled TBR Spotlight this week, and I’ve rolled book #49, The Trouble With Kings by Sherwood Smith.

Princess Flian finds herself the unwilling object of desire of three royals. Is the one she wants a villain–or a hero?

Waking up in a strange place, Flian Elandersi at first doesn’t know who she is. One wicked prince tells her she is secretly engaged to an even more wicked king who wants to marry her right away. But before that happens, yet another wicked prince crashes through a window on horseback to sweep her off her feet.

Memory returns, and Flian realizes that all any of them seem to want is her considerable wealth, not her pleasant-but-ordinary self. She longs to escape the barracks-like, military atmosphere and return to civilization and her musical studies.

Flian endures another abduction, this time in the middle of a poetry reading. Who is the villain? Prince Garian Herlester–languid, elegant, sarcastic? Prince Jaim–he of the dashing horsemanship? Or King Jason Szinzar, whose ambiguous warning might be a threat?

Flian decides it’s time to throw off civilization and take action. The problem with action is that duels of wit turn into duels of steel–and love can’t be grabbed and galloped away.

Sherwood Smith is one of my favourite fantasy authors, but I think she’s very underrated as I rarely see anyone else talking about her. She writes exactly the kind of romantic, adventurous, slightly humorous court fantasy I adore, full of practical princesses, dashing-but-bookish heroes, and a smidgen of magic to liven it all up. They’re just the perfect antidote to the grimdark kick the fantasy genre’s been on recently, and though they aren’t necessarily low stakes or fluffy, they’re always kind of comforting to me. I think they hit the Tamora Pierce button in my brain very nicely. This particular book, The Trouble with Kings, has been sitting on my Kindle for absolutely ages – in fact, it’s the oldest Kindle book on my TBR. Flian sounds like a really enjoyable heroine and I love the sound of the plot. I think I’m going to make the effort to get to this very soon as it’s just what I’m in the mood for.

Have you read this one, or any other Sherwood Smith? I’d love to find some more fans!

Author's Note

#SweepUpYourSmols TBR!

Two TBRs in a week?! I know, it’s unheard of! But this weekend is the third round of #SweepUpYourSmols, my mini-readathon where the goal is to read as many books under 300 pages as you can. So, do you want to see the books I’m choosing from? There’s no way I’ll get to all of these, but I’ve got a nice selection!

I actually found myself really having to search for small books to include! I think I’ve been picking them off and leaving the longer chonks to wait, which is not ideal… Still, there’s an eclectic mix of things so I feel like I’ll be fine for some mood reading.

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

I’m working my way through the few books on Diana Wynne Jones’s backlist that I didn’t read as a child, and this sounds like an interesting one – I’m in the perfect mood for one of her magical, fun stories.

Beauty and the Beast stories edited by Maria Tatar

This is a collection of different animal spouse fairytales from around the world – Maria Tatar’s name on it makes me sure it’s going to be interesting, and I always love adding new variations of fairytales to my repertoire!

Wood Angel by Erin Bow

I’ve seen lots of warnings that this is a pretty grim book for middle grade, violent and quite sad, but I was still tempted into it by its talking cat and witchy vibes, so I’ll give it a go, and if I’m not feeling the darker side of it, I’ll DNF.

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

More witchy middle grade! This sounds like the kind of charming adventure I really love, with a girl out to stop a curse and rescue her mother. I think this would make a good bath read.

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Diane Zahler’s fairy tale retellings are always great – a little dark, but really beautiful takes on their original stories. I’ve actually just finished writing my own take on The Princess and the Pea, so this might be a good time to read A True Princess!

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B Larson

These next three were in my TBR during the last round of Sweep Up Your Smols – maybe this is the right time to get to this YA retelling of Swan Lake?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

I don’t know too much about this one other than that it has a fantastic cover and queer female pirates, which honestly was enough to sell me on it!

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

This actually popped up in my TBR Spotlight a few weeks ago, so head there for more of my thoughts on it!

Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw

This Arthurian retelling has been on my shelf for longer than I can remember. I’m actually a lot pickier now with Arthurian stories than I used to be, so I’m not sure if I’ll get on with this one, but it’s a high priority for me to at least try it and see if it’s a keeper, or if I can have some more space!

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

I love The Princess Bride movie – who doesn’t? And I also love love love behind the scenes books, so I’m really looking forward to this look back at its filming, from the horse’s mouth. I read the introduction when I got this book and decided to save it for a rainy day, as it was just so charming.

Will you be joining in with #SweepUpYourSmols? I’d love to see your short book picks!

Author's Note

September TBR: To Be Re(a)d

I noticed this month that several of the books I wanted to read had red covers, so I thought I’d lean into it and pick some more for a satisfyingly red September TBR!

Look at that beautiful stack! Books I was given for review will be marked with a star.

Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

This is a non-fiction book about the women of the Wars of the Roses. I saw a recommendation for it on Twitter, though I can’t remember from whom, and decided to buy a copy since it’s an area of history I’d like to know more about. I like to have a chunky non-fiction book on the go between novels; my last few have been folklore-themed, so I thought it was time for some history.

Venom by Bex Hogan*

I mentioned in my August Wrap Up that I was looking forward to tackling some sequels this month, and I’m so looking forward to rereading Viper (which I adored) and then finishing up the series! This is one of those books I’ve been putting off until the perfect time, but it got a little lost in the TBR pile, so I’ve decided now is the time.

As the Shadow Rises by Katy Rose Pool*

The second sequel on this list that will require a reread of the first! I had great fun with There Will Come a Darkness (review here), but I’ve forgotten a lot of the details – time to refresh my memory and then read this before book three comes out this month!

All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace*

One more for the sequel stack – All the Stars and Teeth was a favourite read of mine last year (review here), and I’m ready to finish the duology. I have a NetGalley e-ARC of this, but Justine gave me the pretty paperback for my birthday.

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass*

I’m about halfway through this fantasy heist caper as I write this, and I’m having a whale of a time. An ex-courtesan, a Renaissance Italy inspired world, forbidden magic, art theft… it’s brilliant!

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

You might notice this has carried over from my August TBR, as it was one of the two books I didn’t get to. I’m hoping that my smaller reading goals this month will mean I have the time to reread Strange the Dreamer and then read this – it’s a big commitment both in terms of the page count and the emotional weight! I’m looking forward to it though – Strange the Dreamer was stunning and Laini Taylor is always a good bet for me.

So that’s my little red stack of books for this month. What should I read first?